Saturday, February 20, 2016

Happy Birthday Eliot School

The Eliot School in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts is celebrating their 340th birthday. The school started as a grammar school, then played an important role in the introduction of manual training in the US, and now serves as a community art center as well as a hub for providing woodworking to students in public schools. A television report is offered here.

Another story of the Eliot School and their history and celebration can be found here.

Yesterday at the Clear Spring School I was able to describe for my fellow teachers, just a bit of my engagement in the world of Educational Sloyd. The point is not that all children should be doing woodworking. Nor is it that we must slavishly reproduce a system of education from the 19th century, but that the theory of educational sloyd and its values should be practiced in schooling. I have listed these a number of times in the past. Start with the interests of the child. Move from the known to the unknown, from the easy to the more difficult, from the simple to the complex and from the concrete to the abstract. Individualized instruction is also necessary, and these are all points that Otto Salomon made clear in one of his books, The Theory of Educational Sloyd.

If you begin to understand how the human learning system works you gain an understanding of the essential role that the hands play in it. You then begin to understand the important missions that wood shop, music, the arts, field trips, laboratory science and other excursions from the desk and desktop must play in it. Learning must be made real.

The illustration above would require some additional explanation, so I link back to a previous post.  One might assume that the study of child development began with Piaget. But advocates of manual arts education had long noted that children developed their intelligence through stages. Children may receive instruction, but they really learn by doing and reflecting on what they have done.

At my meeting with fellow teachers I supplied sloyd knives, sticks for carving, and band aids just in case. It was a symbolic exercise in which teachers were to observe closely, and reflect upon their effect. One teacher carved her stick to a perfect point. Another carved the start of a perfect dowel.  The goals were different but the results the same. All learned by doing, and the vacuum cleaner removed the offending evidence.

Make, fix, create, and extend to others the opportunity to learn likewise.


  1. Doug,

    Your diagram brought to mind Francis Ferguson’s argument in the classic text on drama called “The Idea of a Theater”, that plays are composed of dramatic cycles which together form a single, whole overall dramatic cycle characterized by 3 stages he calls purpose, passion and perception. (These might be more helpfully called intention, action, reflection.) This seems to me to describe, similarly to your diagram, the value of making in teaching children the nature of engagement in the world. In drama, the protagonist sets out on a mission, or defines an objective, pursues it and finally comes to a revelation unforeseen at the outset of the story. This is invariably a humbling experience that teaches us the true nature of our relationship to the rest of the world. In tragedy, in teaches us the danger and fallacy of hubris. In comedy (not in the modern mundane sense but the more profound, perhaps we can say classical sense), it teaches us the surprising and joyful wonders and miracles of life.

    This seems to me one key way in which handcraft leads the young mind to, making clear in tangible ways, the underlying nature of more academic subjects like literature and history.

  2. Tim, thank you. You've added another layer to my thoughts. Thanks for reading and taking the time to respond. Francis Ferguson sounds like a good read, and while I was not familiar with his book, it appears to have been influential.